Film Versus Digital or: How I Want to Remember the Moment
The age-old debate photographers will inevitably bicker over until the end of time; which one is better? The arguments are all the same, and like much of today’s social discourse… the opposition is offensively wrong. The same articles plea the same cries, the comment sections troll the same retorts… C’est la guerre!
I would like to offer an alternative that seems so painfully obvious it almost hurts. Why not choose both? There are clearly benefits from both camps… so why not benefit from the strengths of each?
I had an epiphany about how I view the difference between film and digital. It has nothing to do with any of the typical arguments. It has everything to do with how I want to remember the moment.
The way I see my film scans are as documents of time. They are raw. They are relatively close to how I actually saw the scene that I photographed. Obviously there is creative license at play with film stocks and how the film is shot… but in my eyes they are strictly unedited stamps in time.
Digital, however… provides me with an entirely separate toolset that opens up opportunities that the film scan cannot provide. Based on the premise of what photography is, yes… it is still a stamp in time. But using these tools I am able to steer the mood of that stamp how I see fit. This gives me a chance to manipulate that moment to reflect how I would like to remember it.
This epiphany struck me when thinking about my professional work for Zac Brown Band. I realized I document heavily off-stage using black and white film… yet the actual stage performances are all digital. While this is partly due to the rapid turnarounds that are required for social media… it is also largely due to how I want these moments to be remembered.
The film scan is my archival moment in time. I was a fly on the wall, and am presenting it as such.
The digital image, subject to a heavy-handed post-process, is not journalistic at all. It is an artistic representation of how I want the moment to be remembered.
I am fully aware that the documentary approach can be, and often is taken with digital photography. I am only speaking of my process and how I see the difference functioning between the two… and as someone coming to terms with my process for visual storytelling while walking the line between photo-journalist and visual artist.
When I drove to Alaska to make “Ice Road” in 2017… I dual-shot film/digital the entirety of the trip. I knew the book was going to be panoramic 35mm… but it became part of the process of my trip to “review the dailies” once I was stopped for the night. It helped me journal the end of each day, and drastically helped me map out the route that I took once the trip was over… because the digital camera was logging GPS on each shot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this process provided me with a rough draft before I ever even got my film scans back. In most cases I preferred the film scans… but in some cases the digital image saved my hide. Even though it wouldn’t end up in the book… it was a relief to know I didn’t lose the image altogether.
In my eyes… film is a lot like an old car or motorcycle. It might not be the most practical, efficient, or economical… but it evokes something inside of you that nothing else can. However there is something wonderful about an efficient new car that is technologically advanced, drives easily, and costs less to operate. My point is that both have their place in the world… so why fight one over the other?
I understand that personal preference is often a weighing factor… but sometimes function dictates form. Film, digital… these are merely tools to tell the story… and there is nothing wrong with using both.